In Spring 2014 Dr Robert Blackwood and PhD student Will Amos travelled to South Africa to present papers at the 6th Linguistic Landscapes International Workshop, hosted by the University of Western Cape, Cape Town. The three-day conference was held between Wednesday 9th and Friday 11th April, and was hosted for one day at the historic University of the Western Cape, and for two days in the serene Two Oceans Aquarium on the V&A Waterfront.
The conference discussed recent work in an exciting fledgling sub-field of sociolinguistics — the Linguistic Landscape —which deals with signs in public spaces, and their creation and interpretation(s) by those who write and read them.
Robert Blackwood discussed his most recent fieldwork undertaken in the French territory of New Caledonia, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Robert presented a series of signs at a zoo/wildlife park, an aquarium, a museum, and the island’s main cultural centre, which, despite being over 10,000 miles away from metropolitan France, illustrate that the conflict between French and the 28 Kanak languages that exist on the island is heavily tipped in favour of the national language.
Will Amos presented work from his MA (completed 2013) on street names in Toulouse. Whereas since 2001 these bilingual street signs have been upheld by activists as an important illustrator of the regional language Occitan, Will’s data suggest that, rather than supporting the legitimate independence of Occitan (as many assume), the signs more often demonstrate that the language plays second fiddle to French.
The conference offered the opportunity to catch up with existing colleagues — as well as to make new ones — in the unusual and beautiful surroundings of the southern-most tip of Africa. As well as taking the rotating gondola up Table Mountain, beholding the sharks and giant turtles in the conservation tank at the aquarium, and watching the seals lounge lazily on the marina pontoons, the group also partook in a sombre visit to a Township, and the cells where Nelson Mandela and many others were held before making the trip by boat to Robben Island.
Next year’s conference will be held in the University of California, Berkeley, and the following, in 2016, here at the University of Liverpool.